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    Sept. 14, 2001

    No one would believe Gina Caneva.

    No coach could be quite that intense, her teammates would say of Lockport High School volleyball coach Julia Hudson.

    Who could argue with Hudson's disposition? Hudson, after all, has compiled over 600 victories in 20 years as the Porters head coach.

    Now she had someone to back her up.

    When Dawn Strahanoski and Jordan Studzinski joined the University of Illinois at Chicago volleyball team in the fall of 2000, a little piece of home had joined Caneva.

    "Sometimes I'd come here and tell those stories and they'd say 'Your coach is a psycho,'" Caneva said. "Dawn and Jordan knew, they went through it and it kind of made us who we are today."

    "It's really good," Caneva said of Strahanoski and Studzinski's arrival. "Because when I came in here, I had all these stories about (Coach Julia) Hudson and how the work ethic was at Lockport and nobody understood that."

    Strahanoski believes that Studzinski's and her transition from high school to college was smoother because of Caneva.

    "We didn't even plan it or anything and we ended up here together," Strahanoski said. "We were excited because Gina was already here.

    "We didn't feel like freshmen," Strahanoski continued. "We were so nervous when we got here, so at least we knew somebody."

    Strahanoski, however, almost didn't make the 30-mile trek from Lockport to Chicago as she was considering playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois.

    Studzinski also figured that Strahanoski would be suiting up for the Panthers in the fall.

    "I didn't know until after I had committed that Dawn was coming here," Studzinski said. "When I found out about it, I was really excited."

    Strahanoski's recruiting trip to UIC proved to be the difference maker.

    "When I came here to meet the girls, they were really nice to me and I liked them a lot," Strahanoski said. "I think Gina made me feel at home."

    Studzinski, on the other hand, never envisioned herself as a volleyball player, let alone a college scholarship volleyball player.

    "I ran cross country up until my freshman year and I was a basketball player too," Studzinski said. "My Dad was like 'Why don't you play volleyball, you're tall.'

    "So I said OK and I went to a camp in the summer," Studzinski continued. "I was surprised to make the freshman team, so I'll just go out there and try."

    Studzinski figured that her volleyball career ended in the 1999 IHSA state quarterfinals.

    "I never really expected to get as far as I did," Studzinski said. "I just kept working hard and I never expected a scholarship to play volleyball in college.

    "I was looking at other schools, but not to play sports," Studzinski continued. "I didn't really have any intention of playing sports in college.

    "Going to school for free, you couldn't pass that up."

    Both, however, would have to wait for a season as both Strahanoski and Studzinski each used the 2000 season as their redshirt season.

    "I think it was a good experience," Strahanoski said. "I got to watch (UIC All-time assist leader) Erica (Anderson) and I got to see how practice was run.

    "I really had a good role model ahead of me," Strahanoski continued. "Just the way everything worked out I think everything is falling into place."

    Studzinski, also believes the time off was well spent.

    "It was tough to sit on the bench, but it was a real good experience to get adjusted to college level of play," Studzinski said.

    Both made their debuts last Friday night against the No. 16 team in the nation, Ohio State.

    "I was so scared," Strahanoski said. "I was really nervous before the game, but once we got on the court and into warm-ups, I was fine."

    "I wasn't nervous when we were warming up, I was excited," Studzinski said. "When Don told me to go in, that's when I got nervous.

    "After the first play, I was fine."

    UIC, however, was not as the Buckeyes defeated the Flames, 30-15, 30-12, 30-16.

    The Flames, quickly regrouped and captured the next two matches over Ohio University (30-20, 27-30, 25-30, 30-23) and Tennessee Tech (32-30, 30-15, 30-21) to finish second overall in the Buckeye Invitational.

    "This weekend showed what kind of team we are," Caneva said. "Going out there Friday and losing was hard.

    "It showed that we had a weakness and I'm glad it happened so early," Caneva continued. "Last year we started out 9-1 and then it hit us in the midseason and we finished really bad. I'm kind of glad we're maybe getting it out now."

    This is the kind of attitude that makes Caneva one of the leaders on the UIC squad.

    "She is such a great role model for the rest of us and she's not even a senior," Strahanoski said. "Last year, she was a sophomore and she was running the whole team, really motivating everybody."

    Strahanoski says that Caneva has helped her take a more active role amongst her teammates.

    "For me, I don't feel I have to be a senior, to be a big part of the team," Strahanoski said. "I can come in as a freshman, I work hard and everyone sees it, then they know I'm here to take charge and not sit back and just be a freshman."

    Studzinski feels a strong sense of admiration for Caneva.

    "She sets a very positive example, she's definitely a leader on the team," Studzinski said. "Just by her working hard and pushing herself, the other girls on the team see that and want to do better."

    Caneva knows that improvement is a continual process.

    "I try to set a good example by working hard," Caneva said. "That's what I want this team to be.

    "Not that winning comes easy, but we're going to have to work on it," Caneva continued. "I think it's more of a team this year than in past years. That's what I'm trying to push. People do have to work harder than others."

    Caneva, Strahanoski and Studzinski have had a long history together, but that would be no surprise to Hudson.

    "(Coach) Hudson always made it a point for our team to be together," Strahanoski said.

    Together indeed.